The Gladstone Bag

Written by Ursula Ryland
Review by B. N. Peacock

Lush language and dreamy introspection bring Peter Herriton and the British Treaty port of Foochow to life in Ryland’s novel, The Gladstone Bag. Mother-ridden Peter, part-time writer and full time barrister, jumps at cousin Grace’s invitation to visit China. What better way to escape a dull life and tweak a domineering parent? Replete with his much-traveled Gladstone bag, sixty-five-year-old Peter revels in the outbound voyage, and even more so in China. He takes the unpredictable Welshness of Grace, the silence of her surgeon husband, Simon Havers, and the innocence of their young daughter, Amy into ironic stride. Likewise, his attraction to the young American missionary, Carrie, who evokes in him memories of the many women his mother banished from his life. But the Gladstone bag takes precedence, carrying in its depths a letter from Italy years ago, telling his mother of the abduction and accidental death of an illegitimate infant related to them both. Then Japan’s invasion of China looms large, precipitating Peter’s and the Havers’ departure—and Peter’s tragic replay of the accident.

As leisurely paced as a day in thirties’ Foochow, The Gladstone Bag captures the dilemma of British expatriates who feel more at home in China than in England. Even more, it recounts the interconnectedness and tension between China and the West, today more noticeable than ever.